CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Friday that Congress should “go big or go home” on the federal pandemic stimulus package, breaking with opposition to the plan from within his own party.
“We have tried to underspend and undersize what was really needed to get over the top of the mountain,” he told reporters at his coronavirus briefing. “You got a lot of people across this nation who are really hurting.”
House Democrats are poised to get through their $1.9 trillion package aimed at helping individuals, businesses, states and cities. The fate of a provision to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 is uncertain in the Senate, where its nonpartisan parliamentarian said Thursday that the chamber’s rules require that a federal minimum wage increase would have to be dropped from the COVID-19 bill.
Justice, who won office in 2016 as a Democrat before switching parties, has surprised some by backing President Joe Biden’s proposal. He said “an awful lot of Republicans are saying, ‘We don’t want to do this, and we don’t want to do that’” but that he supported a big relief package for people and businesses struggling to pay bills and rent.
He added that he did not support “bailing out a bunch of pension plans that were mismanaged,” likely a reference to aid to states and cities that many Republicans oppose. The state’s Republican members of Congress all oppose the current bill.
“I respect his point of view,” U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney said about the governor on MetroNews radio Friday morning.
The state GOP on Twitter has ridiculed Biden’s plan, highlighting its opposition to measures such as transit projects in California. Republican U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told Fox News she was “definitely a no vote” on the legislation because it contained too many provisions “extraneous to COVID.”
On raising the federal wage floor from $7.25 to $15, Justice said “it’s really, really hard to say one size fits all” across the nation, where the cost of living varies widely. “But to be able to make it on 7 or 8 dollars an hour, that’s really, really tough,” he added. “I am also smart enough to know some businesses that would rip apart and it would raise unemployment in some areas.”
Democratic U.S. Sen Joe Manchin has said he also opposes raising the minimum wage through the legislation.
In other news, Justice said West Virginia expects to see a surge in new vaccines. With the one-shot vaccine from Johnson and Johnson expected to receive federal emergency use authorization soon, the state will receive an initial shipment of approximately 15,000 doses next week.
On top of doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, that would bring up the state’s weekly total doses to 60,000, Justice said.
About 16% of the state’s 1.78 million population is at least partially vaccinated, while 10.3% have received both shots of the currently available vaccines. Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine only requires one dose for full effectiveness.
The state’s Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said only .2% of Black residents have registered to receive a vaccine. Officials urge all residents aged 16 and over to pre-register for a vaccine at vaccine.wv.gov.
“Everyone out there needs to register, but we’re really trying to get more African Americans to register as well,” Crouch said.
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